4 minute read

Students Share Data in Exchange for Value

3/29/2022 8:00 PM

Colleges and universities are awash with data, from the personal details of applicants and the academic records of students to the research results of professors and the financial information and on-campus activity of the entire institution. Because higher education institutions are long-lived and much of the collected data is required to be stored for periods of time, colleges and universities have to manage an immense and ever-increasing pile of data.

With cyber attacks steadily increasing, securing data is a top priority for higher education. The next concern is the scope, purpose, and use of student data. What data needs to be collected? Do students need to give approval to use the data? How is the data being used?

More Data from More Sources

Traditional forms of student data will continue to be generated by perennial processes like class registration and financial aid applications. But new technologies on campus produce additional types that may not have been accessible before.

Digital IDs are used to open doors, access rooms, check-in to class, and more. Mobile phones, often with digital IDs added, are enabled to do an ever-growing list of functions on campus: make payments, schedule appointments, access campus transportation and facilities, check out books, event ticketing, and more.

All of these transactions and interactions across campus generate data that create an understanding of student behavior that was unavailable until now. This is an opportunity to improve campus operations and services by mining the data for insights that lead to better business decisions, policies, and practices, and ultimately a better student experience.

Gen Z and Their Data

Thanks to the importance of mobile phones and other digital technologies to their lives, today’s students are aware of issues regarding their personal data. Gen Z knows that data issues are unavoidable, must be dealt with, and require compromises. For that reason, communications researchers call this generation “data pragmatists.” They approve of data collection and analysis in exchange for value and benefits to their lives.

The desired value most commonly cited is personalization, customization, and direct and timely communication. Gen Z appreciates if their data is analyzed to figure out their needs and preferences and to deliver goods and services that fit them.

Putting Payment and ID Data to Use

Applied to higher education, using student data to provide value can benefit students and institutions alike. Financial account data can be analyzed to find students who may be in danger of missing payments and send them reminders of due dates and account resolution options. This gives students the personalized service they expect and helps students avoid late fees or debt, transcript holds, and other disruptions, while institutions maintain steady revenues.

Student ID data presents numerous opportunities to improve the student experience. Digital IDs can be used for multiple purposes on campus, which creates data on student behavior. Transportation services can trace patterns in the locations and numbers of riders to plan how many buses are needed when and where, creating efficient operations and satisfied students. Dining services can track dining hall attendance for weekly and daily ebbs and flows and adjust schedules, services, and ordering accordingly, which improves resource management for the institution and a better dining experience for students.

Even more, when multiple data sets are integrated, analysis can identify patterns. Administrators can analyze event attendance, academic support services usage, auxiliary services usage, and other measurements of students’ campus activity to find indicating and contributing factors of academic performance. This allows staff to identify which students might benefit from tailored notifications and offers of aid and resources, an intervention that can help sustain enrollment by providing students with the personalized care that makes a difference.

Seek Counsel and Best Practices

Generally, schools should already be obtaining consent from students to collect, store, and use some forms of data generated by mobile and digital sources. The technical and legal landscape is in constant motion, so check with your institution’s privacy office or legal counsel on how your school handles data collection and how data is used across its lifecycle. Be prepared for your approach to change as laws and regulations change.

In addition, best practices in using data to enhance the student experience are evolving and being shared in the higher education community. Consider how other institutions have approached using data responsibly, while also being creative about how to best serve their students. The volume of data generated on modern campuses provides schools with an opportunity to enhance the student experience by making services more effective and better aligning user needs with service delivery.